By: Assemblyman Devon J. Mathis

Working families in this country are struggling due to the high costs of everyday goods. With inflation raging due to Washington’s reckless policies and burdensome regulations, California legislators should be doing everything we can to reduce prices for working families. One way we can provide relief for California residents is by reducing the high cost of energy in our state.

California’s electricity rates are the fifth highest in the nation and 48% higher than the national average. This means that even with discount-rate programs such as the CARE Program (California Alternate Rates for Energy), low-income Californians are still paying much higher rates than the average American. This translates into higher costs for families and small businesses already struggling under the burden of inflation.

Some people in the green movement will tell us that higher energy costs are the price we need to pay to protect our environment. I say that it is a false choice to have to choose between protecting our environment and providing affordable energy. As someone who is understanding of the environmentalist movement, I know that we can do both. That is why I introduced Assembly Bill 65, the California Energy Independence Act, which would expand the use of carbon-free, advanced nuclear power throughout California.

Specifically, my bipartisan bill authorizes the deployment of small modular reactors, or SMRs. They are nuclear reactors that have the capacity to generate up to 300 megawatts per reactor, compared to the traditional 1,000-megawatt reactors that are more common.

Advantages of SMRs, compared to conventional nuclear reactors, include smaller size requirements, increased deployment flexibility, reduced upfront capital costs, and greater safety benefits. Another major benefit provided by SMRs is that their components can be factory-assembled and then transported to site for installation; this would greatly reduce the difficulties associated with the construction of traditional nuclear reactors.

California has set an ambitious climate goal to be 100% carbon-neutral by 2045, yet our current regulatory process stifles investment in SMRs. Existing state law generally prohibits the state Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission from certifying a nuclear fission thermal power plant or permitting them for land use in California. My bill would rectify this mistake by exempting SMRs from these erroneous restrictions so we can finally invest in this futuristic, carbon-free energy source.

This week the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and the Assembly Committee on Utilities & Energy will hold hearings on AB-65. Historically, these committees have not been friendly to the expansion of nuclear power, but I am hopeful that our bipartisan desire for clean & affordable energy overcomes outdated misconceptions regarding the safety of advanced nuclear power. It’s time for California legislators to stop comparing modern nuclear energy to the disaster of Chernobyl. If California legislators are serious about achieving our goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, we will accept the fact that advanced nuclear power is essential for us to reach our legally-imposed goal.

We should reject the false dilemma that states that we must choose between affordable energy and a healthy environment. We can and must have both. My bipartisan bill allows for replacing fossil fuels with carbon-free energy without increasing energy costs for working families.

I invite both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to sign onto my pro-climate and pro-energy bill. I ask the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Utilities & Energy to approve my bipartisan bill so we can finally get started on reducing energy costs while making sure our planet stays healthy enough for our future generations.

Republican Devon Mathis of Visalia represents the 33rd District in the state Assembly.